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Remembering Anticipation

Robert C. Atchley, an expert on retirement, aging and spirituality, has described retirement as a transitional process consisting of distinct phases. The phases of retirement that have been identified by Atchley and others provide a framework for thinking about the process of retirement and understanding the transitional nature of retirement.

The phases of retirement are not a precise roadmap. Not everyone’s retirement is exactly the same, and we each face unique circumstances and bring with us different aspirations and personalities. It is little wonder, then, that the phases of retirement are not an inevitable and immutable progression. For some people, one or more of the phases may be abbreviated or experienced in combination with other phases. For other people, each of the phases may resonate with their own experience, and they may perceive that their retirement evolves through distinct stages.

What I care about, of course, is my own retirement experience. I want to experience retirement as I live it and not analyze it as an academic exercise to see if I got it “right.” My writings in the next chapter will provide a running commentary, which my readers may find to be thought-provoking or somehow useful in their own lives—or simply a few minutes of free entertainment.

I owe a mention to Kathy Merlino, who blogs at Kathy’s Retirement Blog. Until reading her blog, I had never heard of Robert Atchley or his six phases of retirement. Thanks, Kathy.

Atchley called the first phase “pre-retirement.” In some of his writings, he subdivided the pre-retirement phase into a “remote” phase and a “near” phase. The pre-retirement phase is all about anticipation. It may be remote anticipation when one understands that such a thing as “retirement” exists but yet it is a far-off thing more abstract than real.

When retirement becomes “near,” thoughts about retirement take on a greater sense of reality. During the near anticipation phase, you realize that retirement is something that could really happen for you and something that perhaps you should prepare for in some way. The anticipated reality of future retirement becomes an influencing factor in decisions about work and career, family relationships, money and budgeting, personal health and habits, and even where to live.

Looking back to the time before I retired, I remember that at some point I realized that I could envision myself as retired. At that moment, I accepted the concept of being a retired person. For me, that was the transition from the “remote” phase to the “near” phase of pre-retirement. I did not keep notes, so I do not know exactly when this occurred, but it seems that it was about five years before my eventual retirement date. I was not ready then to decide when I would retire, but I began to persuade myself that I probably would retire sometime.

I suppose that I had all kinds of thoughts associated with my anticipation of retirement, but I had two major concerns. Could I afford to retire? And, what would I do in retirement? In retrospect, I was able to answer the first question. More or less.

Affording retirement is a big deal, and it is certainly something that those in the pre-retirement phase of retirement should spend some quality time thinking seriously about. There are many ways of going about deciding if you can afford to retire. There are, of course, financial planning professionals who make their own living by helping people with this. There are resources on the Internet that can help. Indeed, “retirement planning” has largely become synonymous with financial planning for retirement.

One tool that I found useful in trying to figure out whether I could afford to retire was the “Ballpark Estimate” that has been developed by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The calculator is simple to use and provides one method to calculate the financial resources needed for retirement. The website is rich with other ideas and resources to help people handle money better. It is not the only financial planning website out there, and I do not know if it is even the best, but it is one that I came across and found useful when I began to anticipate retirement in a serious way.

Calculating what you need and putting together a savings plan for retirement is never an exact science. In reality, you may never know for sure whether you can afford to retire until after you have left your job and it is too late to save up for retirement. There will be unforeseen expenses, and you cannot predict how many years your retirement will last. I was able to make a pretty good guess about what I would need for monthly expenses and unforeseeable contingencies. I did not try for certainty, but I was able to achieve a level of financial confidence, and I knew that I did not want to work forever. In other words, I felt confident that I was financially “ready” to retire.

Retirement is more than a financial decision. Once I focused on a possible retirement date, a process of disengagement from work was set in motion. The anticipation of retirement influenced how I felt about work. My career had entered the endgame. I imagined the end of a career and the beginning of…what?

The answer remained elusive. I did not know what I wanted to do, and even after setting a retirement date and watching that date march closer, I was unable to formulate a good answer.

Other people have no trouble knowing what they want to do in retirement. Many people, it seems, approach retirement with lots of plans to do lots of things. Travel seems to be a popular activity plan for retirement. Some people are already active in volunteer work before they retire, and they look at retirement as an opportunity to intensify these activities. Some people have longed to learn a new skill or devote more of their time to a favorite hobby. Many have prepared a “bucket list” of things they want to do or places they want to go, before they kick it.

In contrast to all these other people who seem to have a good notion of what they want to do in retirement, I have been a slacker. I have neither booked my cruise nor filled my bucket. To confess, I am just making it up as I go along. Do not follow my example.

My retirement date arrived and the question of what I would do in retirement remained unanswered. I have since embraced the idea that the lack of a plan might be a good thing. This could be delusional, I admit. On the other hand, if I had delayed retirement until I could say for sure what my plan was, I would probably still be working.

Maybe I was driven by my curiosity about what retirement would be, but I felt it was time for a decisive exit from the career merry-go-round. Retirement was an opportunity that I seized without fully knowing the consequences. In a way, the anticipation never ends.

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1 Comment

  1. John L

    It is indeed an interesting period of transition.

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